We're all guilty of viewing ourselves under a microscope, so much closer than anyone else sees us. We find small flaws within ourselves and magnify them far beyond their true size, holding ourselves to impossible standards. This is how I saw my scoliosis. Even though my friends claimed that they couldn't tell, I couldn't get past the feeling that I was noticeably deformed. Over time, this thought began to intrude into my daily life. Clothes that I had once loved made their way to Goodwill piles because I no longer thought I could "get away with" wearing them. I avoided going to the beach and pool because I didn't want anyone to see me in a swimsuit. The worse my scoliosis became, the less confidence I had. Eventually, I got rid of all my crop tops and form-fitting outfits and exclusively wore oversized thrift store sweaters to hide my torso. I thought I would have to deal with scoliosis for the rest of my life, and I didn't see a way out of my insecurity. I made up my mind to live with it, but deep down I worried that I would never truly love my body with scoliosis.

Halfway through my junior year of high school, about five years after I was first diagnosed with scoliosis, my spinal curve had progressed to a severe 62 degrees (surgery is usually recommended for curves of 45 degrees and above). I decided that spinal fusion surgery was the best choice to eliminate pain and avoid future health problems. Though spinal fusion is not a cosmetic surgery, it obviously comes with the cosmetic benefit of a more "normal" looking body. Once the surgery was on the horizon, I couldn't help but dream of finally being happy with the way I looked.

The surgery was pretty painful and ugly, but I think I'll always remember the first time I looked in the mirror afterward. It was my second day in the hospital, and I gathered the strength to walk to the mirror with my IV pole in tow. I was so eager to see how I'd changed, and I was not disappointed. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I actually liked my body. I didn't stand there and pick out flaws or tear myself apart. That was an amazing feeling.

The truth is, I don't really know how drastically my physical appearance changed due to the surgery. What I do know for sure is that I feel happier in my body now, and it shows. I stand taller and wear clothes my own size. Friends and family compliment me and tell me I look much better now, but I honestly think it's because I feel much better now. I'm finally happy in my body, and my newfound confidence shines through from the inside out.

My scoliosis journey taught me so many life lessons, and here's what it taught me about beauty: It's not about how you look, it's about how you see. I went through a life-altering surgery, but what really changed the most was the way I saw myself. Though I will always have insecurities, I've learned to appreciate and be thankful for the body I have. Unconditional self-love is really difficult to achieve, and most of us will spend our whole lives working toward it. I don't know I'll ever get there, but at least I've taken a really big step in the right direction.